Review and Rambling: Crown of Thistles – The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots

Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots (or in the US Tudors vs. Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots)

By Linda Porter

Crown of Thistles cover

In the course of my hiatus, I had the opportunity to read a few books that’d been on my “want” pile, and at the very top was Crown of Thistles, which I purchased on my trip to England earlier this summer.  I’d already read the other “fun” book I purchased at the same time, a biography on Queen Matilda, whose husband was King William I of England.  I’d wanted to get one in temporal area of research and one out.  I was quite pleased to find one that seemed to be about Mary Queen of Scots, mother-in-law to Anna of Denmark, whom I presented a paper on this summer.

After presenting and having the opportunity to talk shop about history with the other presenters, I’ve become more resolved to look at not just English history, as I’ve done previously, but also Scottish.  Scottish history is a rich and vibrant field and I want to continue my study looking at royalty, the construction of feminine identity and authority, and educational history, especially in context of the other monarchy on the island and in relation to those on the continent.

So this book Crown of Thistles, fits in quite well with my geographic focus and my focus on royal studies.  Originally, from the title, I thought it was primarily going to be about Mary Queen of Scots, and a focus on her relationship with Elizabeth I of England, but I was mistaken.  From the start, I was annoyed that we were reading about Catherine de Valois, Queen Consort to Henry V, and James III, but I was drawn in to Porter’s prose with her flair for bringing these historical characters to life as flesh and blood people and realizing where she was going by starting so far in the past.

By starting in the 15th century, she carefully sets up the tempestuous relationship between the two dynasties, and then carefully gives us background and biography on each of the rulers and other main players in the government and society.  I was glad, it was a breath of fresh air, to read about Scottish monarchs James III, James IV, and James V.

Also written in great detail was the Battle of Bosworth Field, as well as the rest of Henry VII’s exile and battles for the throne.

Pulling together these two seemingly disparate threads to put light on Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth was an interesting approach, and although I’d wanted more on Mary, there are other sources which fall under that heading, like Lady Antonia Fraser’s work, or John Guy’s.  This put her childhood in France in context with the ambitious nature of her mother and brought to life the Auld Alliance.  As a reader, she helped me to understand that while the story can seem simple, it is infinitely more complex than it seems, and to bring an understanding of the people, as living-breathing people, can grant the reader more clarity.

 

I would whole heartedly recommend this book, with the caveats that it is 1) not just about Mary Queen of Scots, and 2) for a trade paperback, REALLY long.  It reads quickly and is not overly difficult.

Current Projects and Near Future?

Masque of Queens

In light of the fantastic experience I had at Kings and Queens 3, I come away with an even greater appreciation for the act of research and the necessity of sharing said research with others.  I was inspired by the many fantastic papers I heard and would like to work on some more projects of my own in the near future.

 

First project?  I will continue the work I presented at the conference.  I still have a few more masques of Anna’s to analyze and I have even more ideas thanks to comments and questions at the panel to inform my current work.  I’ll work on adding in ideas from Samuel Daniel’s work, “Tethys Festival or The Queen’s Wake” and then the final Anna-produced masque, “Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly.”  I’ll continue to focus on the political use of the masques as well as a literary analysis in terms of how Anna used them to self-fashion her own public image.

Masque of Queens

Masque of Queens

 

I was also particularly inspired by the work presented by Estelle Paranque, “Jezabel d’Angleterre”: Queen Elizabeth I through French eyes”  and how she used French sources to chart and analyze the reaction of the royalty and aristocracy to Elizabeth’s rise and reign.  I think it may be particularly interesting to analyze the French (or others) reaction to Anne Boleyn’s meteoric rise and catastrophic fall.  The French perspective would be, I think, the richest to focus upon because of Anne’s early ties to the French royalty.  This will also make me work on learning French, which, after this conference, I’ve learned is a necessity.  This site is one that Estelle said she used quite a bit, and I hope it’ll aid me in my research: Gallica.

Anne Boleyn Portrait

Another particularly inspirational paper, for my research, was “Scotland’s Royal Children: 1371-1528″ by Amy Hayes.  She worked on researching the lives of the children of monarchs who were not expected to inherit the throne.  This was difficult research for her as there is scant documentary evidence available.  It doesn’t seem to exist.  What I would like to do, though, is look for threads on the curriculum taught to these children and to piece together the educational programme established for the royal broods.  England will be far easier than either Scotland or Ireland, and I’d also like to add in the Danish royal family.  There are not that many (read: basically none) sources in English on the Danish royal family, but with the work I’ve done on Anna of Denmark, I would really like to see what I can do to piece together her early childhood and that of her siblings.  One key way to understand the reigns of monarchs is to understand what was taught to them as children.  I’d like to do that with Anna and her siblings to start off with and then move on to other  royal broods.

 

This is in addition to studying for the GRE (again… ugh) and getting applications in line for graduate programs!